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How to be Sherlock Holmes

In the Cambridge First (B2) Speaking exam it is important that you speculate.

This means debating the possibility or impossibility of something.

Let’s imagine we are detectives…

We have to discover who has eaten the chocolate cake in a family’s fridge…

Looking at our evidence we say:

“It COULD be the brother because he often eats sweet things.”

“It COULD also be the mother because she loves chocolate.”

“It CAN’T be the sister because she is away on holiday.”

“It also CAN’T be the father because he is on a strict diet.”

Wait! NEW evidence:

The father always eats with his hands. The piece of cake left has been broken my someone’s hands. Moreover, we have found chocolate stains on the shirt that the father wore that day. So we say….

“It MUST be the father who has eaten the chocolate cake! What about his diet?!”

😛

4 Tips for any Official English Exam!

1) In the speaking exam: Show the examiner what you know!

Don’t answer with one word or one sentence. If the examiner asks you a question in the present simple, first answer in the present simple. Then, surprise him or her by using an example in the past simple or the future… or even a conditional!

2) In the listening exam: Practice BEFORE the exam without headphones!

It is very different listening to the audios through your headphones to listening to it out loud. Make sure you practice without headphones to get used to it.

3) In the writing exam: Use short sentences and connectors.

Communication is always better when it is short, clear and precise. Do use some relative clauses but don’t write ridiculously never-ending sentences. You can link your sentences together with connectors such as “However”, “Moreover” etc.

4) In the reading exam: Read the question before the text.

That way you read the text intelligently, knowing what you are looking for. You will save time.

Enjoy these 4 tips, and remember: Practice, practice and more practice! :)

Exam English: Greetings and Goodbyes

Free lesson on-line!

What are your hobbies?

That annoying question. You know what you like but your mind goes blank. What do I like? Why can’t I think of anything? Am I boring?

No, you’re not boring :). With exam nerves it’s normal to panic sometimes. So, to avoid that, let’s prepare the hobbies question right now.

There are four main ways you can talk about your hobbies:

In my free time…..

I like + gerund        

I like going swimming. 

I love + gerund      

I love travelling.

I enjoy + gerund

I enjoy having fun with my friends. 

I + frequency adverb + present simple.

I usually read non-fiction books. 

In the exam try to give examples in another verb tense. For example:

I love playing tennis. In fact, yesterday I played tennis with my best friend.

You can also impress the examiner with this:

If I had more time I would read more (second conditional, points, points, points).

I used to play the piano but now I don’t have time (“Used to” – more points).

So, don’t panic. You are not being marked for what you do but for how you say what you do. Keep it simple and learn the structures. And… enjoy! Go and watch a good film in English – with subtitles if you must. Make English one of your hobbies and all this will be easier! ;).

Oh “Used to”, you are so confusing!

Student: I used to go out with my friends at the weekend.

Teacher: Ah, so now you don’t go out with your friends?

Student: Yes, yes, I used to… Ah no… I USUALLY go out with my friends!!

Teacher: Hehe, that’s right. Now, tell me something you USED TO do.

Student: AH, used to is like “solía”, isn’t it?

Teacher: Not exactly. It’s: “Antes era/hacía/decía etc”. For example: I used to be fat. This example doesn’t work with “solía”.

Student: AH, that’s true! OK, so, I used to be shy, and I didn’t used to go out very much. Now, I am very sociable and I USUALLY go out EVERY weekend!

Teacher: Fantastic! Now, tell me. Are you used to speaking English?

Student: Did I used to? Well, a little, at school. I didn’t SPEAK it very much, but I studied it.

Teacher: This is a different meaning of “Used to”. I am asking you if you are accustomed to speaking English.

Student: AH! Of course!! Yes, I suppose I am used to speak English… or at least, I am getting used to speak English – I am becoming accustomed. I have class every day, and I practice with my English-speaking friends once a week!

Teacher: Great! Just one correction. When we use “To be used to” as “To be accustomed”, or “Get used to” as “To become accustomed”, it is always followed by the gerund: I am used to speaking English.

Student: OK, perfect! I am used to English being confusing :P. I have got used to practicing a lot and being patient!!!

😉

English for Christmas!

It’s that funny time of year where we decorate trees, eat and drink too much, and go shopping crazy! If an alien were to watch us from space what would he/she think? 😀

Do you want to improve your English for Christmas? Here’s how:

Enjoy English! Find websites, videos, songs, series, films, people, trips etc that motivate you! Start to love the language and ask for presents in English.

Here’s a grammar tip for Christmas:

When we talk about activities we like, love or enjoy doing we should use the gerund:

I like going out with my friends on Christmas Eve.

 I love spending time with my family at Christmas.

 I enjoy opening all my presents and watching my family open theirs!

 Finally, a silly fact. It is often said that Santa Claus is red because of Coca Cola. While there is some truth in that, the colours are also said to be inspired by the original Saint Nicholas, who was the Bishop of Myra in the 4th Century. Red and white were the colours of traditional bishop robes.

So, have you been good this year? Will Santa Claus come down the chimney to visit you, or will it be the Three Wise Men brining your presents? 😛

Cambridge First 2015

Are you taking the Cambridge First (FCE) exam in 2015?

If so, don’t panic! There are three changes to the exam, and they are all positive!

1) The exam will be 30 minutes shorter than the current one.

2) The exam will have 4 papers, instead of 5!

3) The Reading and Use of English papers will now be combined! :)

The Reading and Use of English will last 1 hour and 15 minutes. It shows that you can understand texts from publications such as books, magazines and newspapers. It also tests your general language knowledge.

The Writing will last 1 hour and 20 minutes. It shows you can write different text types such as an essay, a report or a letter.

The Listening will last 40 minutes. It shows that you can follow a range of spoken materials, such as news and everyday conversations.

The Speaking will last 14 minutes. It shows you can communicate effectively in face-to-face situations. You take this part of the test with one or two other candidates.

You will receive a separate grade for each of the four skills (reading, listening, speaking and writing), and the Use of English. The scores are averaged to give you an overall result for the exam.

Now, to destroy a myth: the Cambridge FCE does not expire! Yes, a company or an educational institution may ask for a more recent certificate if you passed the exam more than 2 years ago, but there is no expiry date on the certificate – it’s for life.

For more information on the changes to the exam see here: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams/first/exam-update-for-2015/

Enjoy your exam preparation! :)

I want you to do a silly dance!

Imagine you had magic powers for a day. You have the control. What would you want other people to do? Your family members, your colleagues, your friends, your partner…. What would you say?

 I want you to be more understanding at work.

 I want you to help me with the housework!

 I want you to come with me to the cinema!

 I want you to do a silly dance in the street!

Maybe you don’t need to be Harry Potter to say these things, but the point here is this. To tell someone what you want him/her to do in English is NOT:

 I want that you are less serious.

It’s:

 I want you to be less serious.

 Subject + want + object + infinitive.

Try it with someone today in English… See how they react! 😛

Being Polite in English

Please, thank you, you’re welcome. Not at all. Please. Thank you so much…

Yes. The British are a nation of intense politeness. While in Spain we say:

“Give me a coffee”. In the UK they say: “Could I have a coffee please?”

Or:

“Put me some toast”, compared to: “May I have some toast, please?”

Here are 5 keys to British politeness:

1) Don’t get too close

British people need their space. Don’t stand too close to them or touch them while you are speaking. When you meet them, shake hands. After that, it’s a pat on the back, hug, or one kiss on the cheek if you haven’t seen them for a while. If you see them regularly, a nod and a smile is enough.

2) Ask indirect question using modal verbs.

Compare: “What is the time?” To: “Could you tell me what the time is please?”

Or: ·Help me with this” vs: Would you mind helping me with this, please?”

3) Don’t talk too loudly.

British people are usually quite softly spoken.

4) ‘Pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ are vital!

You can never say too many.

5) Don’t eat the last piece!

British people will always leave the last “bit” on a shared plate to be polite. So, no matter how delicious that last piece of cake looks…. leave it sitting there lonely. 😉

Modal Verbs that are NOT Followed by “To”.

A common mistake in English is to say: “I should to go to doctor’s”, “I can to go to the cinema tonight”, or: “I must to talk to him”.

The “to” is incorrect!

The following modal verbs do NOT have “to” after them:

Must

You must study. If you don’t you will fail the exam.

She is driving an expensive car. She must be rich.

Should

If you feel ill you should go to the doctor’s.

She should win the race as she is the best!

Can

I can play the guitar.

Can I open the window, please?

May/Might

He might come to the party but I’m not sure.

May I go to the toilet, please? 

Could

This afternoon I could go to the cinema or I could go to the beach.

Could you tell me what the time is, please?

Would

If I had more time I would do a master’s degree.

Would you mind helping me, please?

Will

Will you show me the way to the meeting room please?”

I will call you, I promise.

Had Better

You had better stop smoking otherwise you will get ill.

You had better not call me after 22:00, as you will wake me up!

Shall

Shall we go?

Shall I send it to you?

These modal verbs DO use “to”:

Have to/Need to

I have to go to the supermarket to get some eggs.

I need to tell you something.

Be able to

I’ve been calling her, but I haven’t been able to reach her.

I used to be able to do handstands, but I’m not flexible enough now!

Supposed to

Oops! I was supposed to call her but I didn’t. I forgot!

They’re supposed to train me but I’m not sure if they will.

Allowed to

You’re not allowed to smoke in this bar.

They are allowed to have lunch between 12:00 and 14:00.

Ought to

You really ought to go the dentist’s. You haven’t been in years!

She ought to stop talking, as she isn’t giving everyone else a chance!

The modal verbs can be confusing. Our advice is that you learn them by their uses, and practice, practice, practice, until you feel comfortable with them. The more reading and listening practice you do, the more you will see and hear that the modal verbs are everywhere! :)